How I Spent May 2021

2021-05-31 13.48.15

Reviews, reviews, reviews. I’ve been posting reviews of this year’s Splatterpunk Award finalists, as you can see elsewhere on this blog, and I’ve also started on the Hugo Awards reviews that’ll be posted at WWAC in due course. Other than that, my novel’s well past its half-way point. I’ve had just the one article published outside of my blog (Wonder Histories, June 1929: Gernsback is Back) but I’ve managed to get plenty of behind-the-scenes work done. And I’m due to enter talks about a very intriguing project later this very week…

Article topics for June and beyond:

BlogJune21

May 2021: A Month in Horror

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This was the month in which it became widespread knowledge that John Steinbeck wrote a werewolf novel. Entitled Murder at Full Moon, it was ejected for publication and 1930 and currently languishes at the University of Texas in Austin, although Professor Gavin Jones of Stanford University is pushing for it to be published. As something of a lycanthropy buff, one aspect that stands out to me is that the novel apparently associates werewolf transformations with the full moon, even though this would not become a genre convention until Universal used it in the films like Werewolf of London (1935) and The Wolf Man (1940). Too bad Lon Chaney Jr is no longer with us to star in a film version: he had experience with both werewolves and Steinbeck adaptations, after all.

This month saw the presentation of the Bram Stoker Awards. The biggest winner was Stephen Graham Jones, who took the novel and long fiction prizes for The Only Good Indians and Night of the Mannequins respectively. EV Knight’s The Fourth Whore won in the first novel category, Kymera Press’ Mary Shelley Presents took the graphic novel award, Adam Cesare’s Clown in a Cornfield was named the best young adult novel, Christina Sng won the poetry award for A Collection of Dreamscapes and the screenplay award went to Leigh Whannell for The Invisible Man.

In the short fiction categories, Josh Malerman’s werewolf tale “One Last Transformation” was named the best short story, while Grotesque: Monster Stories (Lee Murray) and Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn) were named best collection and best anthology respectively. Finally, the long-form and short-form non-fiction awards both went to Tim Wagonner for his book Writing in the Dark and his essay “Speaking of Horror”.

New films arriving variously in cinemas and on streaming services this month include the torture-themed Antidote; Aquarium of the Dead, in which sea life goes bad; Benny Loves You, in which an abandoned toy seeks revenge; the oddball Dementia Part II; The Devil’s Child, about a nurse who finds herself taking care of a psychic; The Djinn, where wishes go wrong; the South African alien abduction thriller Fried Barry; Ghost Lab, a film from Thailand; The Mad Hatter, set in a mysterious mansion; Morgue, about a security guard facing eerie goings-on in the titular locale; The Woman in the Window, a story of agoraphobia; Oxygen, a story of amnesia and claustrophobia; the school-based Seance; Sound of Violence, about sensory oddities in a very messed-up family; the old-school slasher Skull: The Mask; and the cursed-sibling saga Threshold.

Oh, yes, we also had a round of sequels to big-name films, namely A Quiet Place Pat II, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (not landing in the US until June 4), Spiral: From the Book of Saw and Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead – the last of which, while not strictly speaking a sequel, could be seen as a spiritual successor to that director’s earlier Dawn of the Dead remake. In the world of serialised streaming we received new seasons of Castlevania and Love, Death & Robots plus the Jurassic Park spin-off Camp Cretaceous.

Bidding farewell…

Manga artist Kentaro Miura was best known for Berserk, a sword-and-sorcery saga so brutal that it often bleeds into horror. The manga began serialisation in 1989 but will remain unfinished as a result of Miura succumbing to an acute aortic dissection. He was 54.

“My Body” by Wesley Southard (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

MidnightPentagramA new French bistro by the name of Mon Corps has opened up and already become a roaring success, prompting reporter Cynthia Owen to interview its proprietor Jermane Welkner. Given that every other restaurant to have occupied the building failed, and the small Indiana town that houses it is not the most likely location for such a high-end establishment, what exactly made Welkner’s bistro such a hit?

In the interview, the smug and obnoxious Welkner attributes the joint’s success partly to his own business sense and partly to the skill of his chef, Alexandre Boucher. The chef in question turns out to be something of an enigma: he remains tight-lipped when Cynthia speaks to him, no information about him can be found online, and he stores his meat in a personal sub-basement that not even Welkner himself is allowed to visit…

Food-themed horror is a theme in this year’s Splatterpunk Awards, with the anthology category featuring two volumes of such stories (Chew on This! and Brewtality). “My Body” will need to be a particularly strong variation on the motif to stand out – and as it happens, Wesley Southard has dished up a witty and well-constructed tale of gastro-terror.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Legend of the Werewolf (1975)

LegendWerewolfPosterA woman dies giving birth in the nineteenth-century French countryside on Christmas Eve, and the baby is brought up by wolves. As a result of these unusual circumstances, the boy is a werewolf. Years pass and the feral child is adopted by a travelling carnival, the owner of which dubs him Etoile; but his act becomes harder to sustain as he grows and becomes accustomed to civilisation. The adult Etoile leaves the carnival and finds work at a zoo – after which mysterious and gruesome deaths begin occurring in the vicinity…

Hammer made only one film about lycanthropy – Curse of the Werewolf from 1961 – but anyone curious as to what a second Hammer werewolf film might have looked like could get an idea from watching Legend of the Werewolf. Although made by rival studio Tyburn, some key talent from Hammer was involved: star Peter Cushing, director Freddie Francis and writer Anthony Hinds (alias John Elder) – who, as it happens, wrote and produced Curse of the Werewolf. Even the werewolves seen across the two films have remarkably similar make-up jobs.

Unsurprisingly, Hinds’ plots for the two films also overlap. Each has a prologue steeped in folklore, in this case incorporating superstitions regarding Christmas births (a detail also found in Curse) and the mythical upbringing of Romulus and Remus. Moving from legend to literature, we then have the sight of the young Etoile frolicking about like Mowgli; if nothing else, this is a werewolf film with a refreshingly eclectic range of influences.

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“The Incident at Barrow Farm” by M. Ennenbach (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

CerberusRisingA group of police officers used to small crimes in their small town of Rusk find a change of pace when they investigate a possible murder at a hardware store. The proprietor Cassie Angler is missing, the

main clue to her disappearance being a trail of blood that leads to the doorway. One detective, Chris Miller, catches sight of a suspicious man in the vicinity – but before he can react, the suspect has produced a knife and slashed the detective’s throat.

Although the killer is overpowered and knocked unconscious by another detective, the double tragedy of Cassie’s disappearance and Chris’ death sends shockwaves through the close-knit community, including its police force. The killer is identified as local farmer Robert Alveritt, and while he remains unconscious, the cops head to his property in search of the missing woman. There, they find that he was not acting alone…

“The Incident at Barrow Farm” is a story that swings between smalltown murder and backwoods horror. It takes macabre delight in switching its setting from a place where everyone knows each other to one in which nobody knows who could be lurking around the next corner with a bloodied machete.

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Divided we Fall Part 3: Mr. Kipling’s Exceedingly Banned Books

DividedWeFallIn the first and second parts of my trip through Divided we Fall – an anthology from October 2020 predicting the dystopian results of Joe Biden being elected president – I encountered the Mormon Church being criminalised, conservative military officers being “disappeared” and Donald Trump himself being literally torn apart by a leftist mob. It was pretty boring to be honest, but having passed the halfway mark I may as well soldier on. Here are three more warnings of things to come…

“The Ballad of Becky and Karen” by Jon Del Arroz

To quote a Trump-era tweet from the author of this story, “shitposting works as marketing. This is why we is president now.” True to his philosophy, Jon Del Arroz delivers a few thousand words’ worth of shitpost starring a merry cast of caricatures.

Becky and Karen are two parochial San Francisco white girls who support Black Lives Matter, despite being hopelessly out of touch with the issues connected to the movement. When Karen posts a photo of herself holding up a sign reading “Say their names”, Becky clicks “like” even though she has no idea whose names are being referred to. Since they’re progressives in Divided we Fall, they also spout dialogue like “I can’t believe I just microagressed” and “You should probably watch more mandatory diversity training videos.” Becky has seen Donald Trump murdered on television, and fully approves: her philosophy is that “[n]o matter how micro their aggressions, racists deserved to be put down like animals.”

Noticing that the social media photos of their fellow activists are lacking diversity, the pair decide to head into Oakland and film a video: “All we need is to find some marginalized people to dance with to show we’re one of them and they’re included”, declares Becky. Ignoring a “No Whites Allowed “ sign and heading past the nearly-collapsed remains of the Oakland Tribune building (“Allegedly some kind of bomb had gone off there during the Great Peaceful Protests of 2020”), the two friends stumble upon a group of appropriately marginalised people:

Continue readingDivided we Fall Part 3: Mr. Kipling’s Exceedingly Banned Books”

“Footsteps” by Janine Pipe (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

DiabolicaBritannicaStudent friends Becky and Felicity head out into the Dorset woods for a camping trip. As they try to rendezvous with the third member of their group, Loz, they find that the woods are inhabited by a monster with a taste for human flesh…

The Splatterpunk Award nomination of “Footsteps” (published in the Diabolica Britannica anthology) raises the question of what, exactly, a literary is award for. Some would answer that an award should honour the works with the most potential to become modern classics, destined to provide lasting value to future generations. Others would argue that there is no shame in an award celebrating literature of the moment: the sort of fiction that may be forgotten a year or two down the line, but which at least deserves a loud bang before fading away. The Splatterpunk Awards have generally favoured the latter philosophy, and we see evidence of that in “Footsteps” – a story with the simple aim of capturing the ephemeral thrills offered by monster movies.

The influence of cinema has already been plain in some of the other short stories up for the Splatterpunk Award, with “Next in Line” modelling itself on the kaiju genre and “Phylum” patterned upon the Alien/Thing school of space parasite movies, but “Footsteps” is even more determined to emulate film formula. It even opens with a scene in which a character is introduced purely to be killed by the monster and never seen again, like the prologue to a horror film or the pre-credits scene in a monster-of-the-week TV show.

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Werewolf Wednesday: The Beast Must Die (1974)

BeastMustDie

A macho and eccentric millionaire named Tom Newcliffe sees himself as a natural hunter who has made it to the top by preying upon those beneath him. There’s one game in particular, however, that he has not yet managed to bag: a real live werewolf. Determined to pot himself a lycanthrope, Tom goes through the trouble of rigging a vast array of security and surveillance systems around his secluded mansion, thereby ensuring that if a werewolf arrives at his door he will be ready for it.

Gathering together at Tom’s home to take part in this experiment are some colourful guests with questionable pasts. Paul Foote was convicted of eating samples of human flesh as a medical student. Bennington was once a United Nations diplomat, but his career ended in scandal when members of his entourage mysteriously disappeared. Jan is a concert pianist whose career has been followed by unexplained throat-tearings. Davina once hosted a house party in which a man was found killed and partially eaten. Dr. Lundgren, meanwhile, is obsessed with werewolves and has spent years studying the topic. Rounding off the cast is Tom’s wife Caroline. One of these people is a werewolf – but which one?

While The Beast Must Die was adapted from a 1950 short story by James M. Blish entitled “There Shall Be No Darkness”, reference points more likely to pop into viewers’ heads are The Most Dangerous Game and Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, elements of which appear to have been mixed up with lycanthropy and given a healthy dose of 1970s aesthetic. Above all, The Beast Must Die feels like Amicus trying in their own way to do what their better-known rival Hammer attempted with Dracula A.D. 1972: drag a classic horror monster jiving and grooving into the era of flares and afros.

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